Female entrepreneurs have come out strongly as a lot that dreams small business ideas but executes them big. Many economic pundits have groped around for a theory to explain the scenario. But as they grope for clues, another woman bounces into the limelight of successful investment.
Kenya is full of such women entrepreneurs. But while the limelight has centred on the urbanised independent lot, we ventured into highlighting the forgotten lot in the not-so-urban areas. It is in that search that we encountered Ms Florence Maina, whose wet evening drive along a Nairobi street ignited a Sh6 million business idea.
“I saw commuters stranded, being rained on as they waited for matatus at the Railways bus station in Nairobi. I asked myself how I could turn this into a business opportunity,” she recollects. A go-getter, she developed a concept of indoor and outdoor advertising and started the laborious concept of actualising it.
“I thought if I liaised with City Hall and rehabilitated the matatu terminus, followed by a hunt for sponsors to advertise on the walls of the rehabilitated structures, then all of us would be winners,” she says.
That was in mid-2007 when she gave the terminus a facelift.
“Since then, I have been constructing, erecting, and maintaining bus parks and gardens and sponsors come my way with cheques to advertise,” she says.
In 2009, she graduated the cheap idea into yet another groundbreaking endeavour that is currently setting the pace in East Africa in outdoor advertising.
“I’m the only woman in the region who has managed to come up with a mobile light emitting diode display,” she says.
She explains that this was an expensive idea whose cost was prohibitive, but that with borrowing and savings from her earlier idea, she broke even. The idea, she explains, involves advertising through digital television mounted on a mobile truck.
Each of her two trucks are equipped with a screen, computer, sound system, and generator that relays live advertisements. The trucks move to areas of the advertisers’ choice playing live relays.
“You might hold traffic jams in bad light, but I love them since the slower the speed of the trucks, the more coverage they make to the target audience,” she says. She says this new form of technology that has edged out projector technology is able to stage live shows, cover live events, and at the same time air advertisements.
Enough is enough
The trucks relay on average 100 exposures in a day.
“It is a one-stop shop where advertisers need not recruit dancers, masters of ceremony, and other support staff on their meet-the-people tour since the technology has its entertainment casts,” she says.
One sunny morning in March 1990, Mrs Agnes Wayua from Githunguri Village of Kiambu County looked at her payslip as she sat in the staff room of her school and decided that she had enough of meagre pay.
“As a Teacher’s Service Commission (TSC) employee, the Sh6,000 that I was being paid as net salary had become a nightmare to budget for. I knew the energies inside me could earn me more in other ventures. I only needed to take the ultimate risk of resigning,” she says.
And resign she did, bringing the curtain down on her 15-year career as a primary school teacher.
Today, she takes pride in the fact that she can pay 10 teachers in a month and still have enough money left over to dine and wine to her heart’s content.
And what does she do to make all that money?
She breeds and sells fish.
“In the month of July 2012 alone, I made Sh200,000 from my venture. Add a coin here and there from my horticultural and dairy farming exploits and you can bet I’m not a poor woman,” she asserts.
She sells her fish to fishmongers from different regions in the country. She has also been certified by the Ministry of Fisheries to supply fingerlings to fish farmers.
In a day, she produces an average of 20 litres of milk from her dairy cows, which she delivers to Githunguri Dairy at Sh30 per litre. She has ventured into growing flowers and cabbages to boost her earnings. But to come this far, she had to surmount challenges that at one time threatened to pull her down.
“Soon after I resigned, I realised that it is fear that makes white-collar job holders to hang on even when the pay is miserable. In my case, it dawned on me that my lifestyle would change drastically, from that of tailor-made dresses to farming attire which office people refer to as rags,” she says.
As she struggled with her fears, she postponed starting her venture in agribusiness and instead started a wholesale second-clothes business at Gikomba market, which she operated for three years.
In 1994, her husband, who was an agricultural officer in Kiambu, moved to the United States and a year later she followed with their four children. But in 2000, she came back now resolved to pursue her dream to become a successful farmer.
“Staying in America as a housewife jolted me to the reality that I was adding no value to the fortunes of my family. I decided that it was a lapse into idleness and that it would have been even better to stick to my teaching job,” she explains. She returned to her Githunguri village home and bought four grade cows and 50 hens and planted cabbages.
“I have no regrets about that drastic shift,” she asserts. Ms Wamucii wa Kinyari was, in 2003, hawking socks in Nairobi’s streets.
City Hall askaris’ raids pushed her out of business and she sought employment in a backstreet hotel as a dishwasher.
She had graduated in 2002 from Kariti Girls High School in Nyeri and her childhood dream was to be a journalist. But her father thought journalism was not for “serious” people. She moved in with a female friend in Nairobi and started looking for a job. Life was not easy and she asked a relative to lend her Sh200, which she used to buy socks at Sh10 a pair.
“I would then sell the same pair at Sh50. On a good day, I would make Sh100 profit,” she says.
However, a brush with City Hall askaris found her spending nights in police cells and she would only be released after paying bribes. But the turning point in her life came in 2005. She asked herself a simple question: “Was I born to be a hustler?”
And her answer was an emphatic “No.”
Without any skills, she struck out to utilise her creativity and is today the proud owner of her own small firm — God’s Surprise Productions. She offers event organisation services and marketing consultancy and also records and sells her music. To widen her horizons, she is also a cake matron and a master of ceremony for hire.
“As a composer, I rake in Sh40,000 in a good month, Sh10,000 as a master of ceremony, a further Sh10,000 as a cake matron, and Sh15,000 in live events,” she says.
To improve her prospects, she is pursuing a degree course at the University of Nairobi.
At the age of 28, she attributes her success to principled self-assertion in taking risks.
“I never shy away from taking affordable credit. Added to that is the fear of God and being optimistic that things will work out for the better,” she tips.
She says her journey through life so far has taught her that there is no small beginning.
“All that is required of you is to focus on what you want to achieve. Do not fear to borrow to finance your growth. Above all, trust in God that things will get better and pray that He gives you wisdom to prudently manage your returns as you reinvest in diversified opportunities,” she says.
She advises hustlers not to rely on the unpredictable job market, but rather to exert determination and patience as they commence their search for success from their inner strength.
“Once you get started, manage well the proceeds of your labour and invest in personal progress through education and investments,” she says. Mary Kamuyu rose from being a jobseeker to become an employer. In 2012 when she was 24, she came from an interview for a marketing vacancy in Nairobi feeling low and disillusioned. But at the back of her mind, she was determined to pursue her dream of financial stability.
It was January and this was the 12th interview that she had failed in six months.
“In all the interviews, the panellists were blunt that they wanted degree holders, not diploma graduates like me,” she reminisces.
Frustrated but optimistic that somehow things would work out for the better, she went into a hotel for a drink. She asked for a glass of water, then instinctively followed the waitress to the water dispenser.
“And then it struck me. The dispenser needed cleaning and I had never heard of any service provider who cleaned them,” she says.
And that was the start of a two-month research that culminated in Ms Kamuyu establishing her small firm, Drop Lake Dispenser Services and Solutions. She borrowed Sh200,000 from a bank as starting capital.
“I noticed the crushing 18 per cent interest rate that the bank charged me as well as the Sh5,000 application fees, but I was determined to walk through the pain in pursuit of my dream,” she says.
She partnered with two technical professionals who are now her employees. And within five months of sacrifice, persevering the harsh tides of a new investment, and the hustles of landing clients, she is close to breaking even.
“From a job seeker, I am now an employer of about 50 salespeople whom I pay commission. I’m nearing a breakthrough since I’m already doing business in Southern Sudan, where I intend to open a subsidiary company,” she says, adding that her budding company has a daily cash flow of about Sh400,000.
“In a month, I make an average Sh100,000 net profit,” she says
Why women make better entrepreneurs than men
Male entrepreneurs will be interested to read Ms Adelaide Lancaster’s book, The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business that Works for You, for it offers a 10-point defence on why women are better entrepreneurs.
1. Women are better connectors and establish formidable networks with better resources throughout the life of the venture.
2. Women are better at multitasking. They can work towards multiple priorities and balance multiple roles simultaneously. They won’t shy away from a full plate and will be equipped to handle the multifaceted job of an entrepreneur.
3. They are perfectionists with high standards and don’t settle for mediocre efforts or results. This saves the business money and time because haphazard mistakes and sloppy work are avoided.
4. Women take others into consideration. They build businesses that deliver value for multiple stakeholders. They aren’t out for purely their own gain and their ‘put others’ first’ attitude will net tremendous loyalty for the business in the long run
5. They are willing to do what it takes to hit the mark and they don’t let their egos get in the way. Women think success comes from hard work, not just from being “awesome.” Failures, which are inevitable, spark a redoubling of efforts, not a crisis of self-worth.
6. Women entrepreneurs share the credit. They build companies where employees feel valued for their contributions and input.
7. Women entrepreneurs second-guess themselves. They consult others about important decisions to make sure they aren’t overlooking something. They won’t be afraid to change course if new information or learning is brought to light.
8. Women don’t take as many risks. This means that the ones they do take are more calculated and well thought out. They won’t over-extend the company by chasing bright shiny objects or the latest, hottest idea.
9. They do not fiercely negotiate for the best they can get. They think about value more broadly and understand the price that relationships and the process require.
10. Women value their life outside of work. Their commitment to their company is only enhanced by having a full life outside of work. They know that the costs of burnout are significant for both themselves and the company.